Andreas Schaerer – The Waves are Rising, Dear!
(ACT 9910-2. CD Review by Jon Turney)
It doesn’t take much investigation of the remarkably accomplished Swiss vocalist Andreas Schaerer to establish that this is an artist with few limitations. He’s consistently fascinating as composer, orchestrator, and improviser, and a technical master of voice projection in a dazzling range of modes and styles.
This latest CD, however, does move him into an area where his talent is less conspicuous. It’s a return to the excellent band Hildegard Lernt Fliegen, and has many of the attributes of their last brilliant recording from 2013. The music is by Schaerer, the band follows every twist and turn of his pieces, influences come thick and fast. That previous effort also had a beguiling lightness of touch, though, and a sometimes manic good humour. The words, often enigmatic, seemed relatively unimportant: coloured threads in a larger tapestry.
This time, the words are front and centre. This is Schaerer’s concept album, and takes itself pretty seriously. There is still notable orchestration, making good use of Hildegard’s multi-horn players, Andreas Schopp, Matthias Wenger and Benedikt Reising, who between them play saxes, trombone, tuba, flutes and bass clarinet to breathily broody effect. Vincent Peirani’s accordion and additional vocal from Jessana Nemitz add additional colour to one track. The lyrics feel like the main business though. They are typically oblique, but reference a host of contemporary preoccupations: climate change, information overload, and existential worries both personal and cosmic.
The overall atmosphere is varied, but leans more toward prog rock than jazz. There’s a little of Led Bib’s current sound on the German lyric Irrlicht. And the closing vocal on Symptoms Causes and Treatments, with words from Soweto Kinch, recalls Jon Anderson in Yes, but with a somewhat less irritating voice.
More often, though, the lyrics dominate to less effect. They are moderately elaborate, poetically ambiguous, occasionally teasing. The writing is generally in free verse, with uneven line lengths, and the music is wrapped around them, word by word, so the players have little room for manoeuvre. The very end of the longest composition, the four part Love Warrior opens out into a wordless vocal excursion with the band that is more what Schaerer’s followers may be used to, but ends rather abruptly. Otherwise, the main business is putting across the words as written. It goes without saying they are all delivered with clarity and verve. But for me they don’t have the force that delivery really calls for.
I’ll retain a keen appreciation of the leader’s many talents, and his restless eclecticism, but as a listener this one was less stirring than the dizzy heights of his best work.
Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol. jonturney.co.uk. Twitter: @jonWturney